One other point to consider, as the Obama Administration apparently entertains the possibility of military action against Syria: how much of our analysis of this situation, and our options, is colored by our adherence to concepts and a worldview that are outdated?
In the ’50s and ’60s, our intervention in Vietnam and elsewhere was justified by “the domino theory,” which held that countries would topple like dominos into the Communist column if we didn’t intervene through military force or some kind of CIA scheme. Our approach to foreign governments relied heavily on the money-oriented, Marshall Plan model that was so successful in western Europe after World War II.
Fifty years later, the Soviet Union is gone, the geopolitical map has changed, and our focus is on countries far away from western Europe and southeast Asia — yet the old themes play out, again and again. The colossal sums we have spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Colin Powell’s “if you break it, you bought it” argument, have their roots in the Marshall Plan notion that if we spend enough money we can rebuild countries into grateful and dependable allies. Advocates of our military intervention in places across the globe argue that we need to do so to prevent other countries from following the same course — like dominos.
We have wasted billions in Iraq and Aghanistan, with money going to corrupt politicians, village chiefs, and “warlords,” without much to show for it in terms of our geopolitical security. And the domino theory doesn’t seem to apply to the Middle East, the focus of our most recent interventionist exercises, where neolithic tribal animosities and sectarian disputes that we can barely begin to comprehend have far more force than the events in the country next door.
The Assad regime in Syria is brutal and murderous. Why do we think that a military strike to allegedly cripple its chemical weapons capabilities will change that? And, if the Assad government falls as a result, why do we think its ultimate replacement will be more peace-loving or accepting of western notions of diversity and democracy? If we don’t have assurances on those points — and we don’t — why should America become involved at all?
Some might call this mindset isolationism. I think of it as an effort to focus on our country’s vital interests and to husband our blood and treasure until those vital interests truly are at stake. I just don’t see what is happening in Syria, tragic as it is, as involving our vital interests.